Would the Last Honest Reporter Please Turn ON the Lights?
By Orson Scott Card
An open letter to the local daily paper -- almost every local daily paper in America: I remember reading All the President's Men and thinking: That's journalism. You do what it takes to get the truth and you lay it before the public, because the public has a right to know.
This housing crisis didn't come out of nowhere. It was not a vague emanation of the evil Bush administration. It was a direct result of the political decision, back in the late 1990s, to loosen the rules of lending so that home loans would be more accessible to poor people. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were authorized to approve risky loans. What is a risky loan? It's a loan that the recipient is likely not to be able to repay.
The goal of this rule change was to help the poor -- which especially would help members of minority groups. But how does it help these people to give them a loan that they can't repay? They get into a house, yes, but when they can't make the payments, they lose the house -- along with their credit rating. They end up worse off than before.
This was completely foreseeable and in fact many people did foresee it. One political party, in Congress and in the executive branch, tried repeatedly to tighten up the rules. The other party blocked every such attempt and tried to loosen them. Furthermore, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were making political contributions to the very members of Congress who were allowing them to make irresponsible loans. (Though why quasi-federal agencies were allowed to do so baffles me. It's as if the Pentagon were allowed to contribute to the political campaigns of Congressmen who support increasing their budget.)
Isn't there a story here? Doesn't journalism require that you who produce our daily paper tell the truth about who brought us to a position where the only way to keep confidence in our economy was a $700 billion bailout? Aren't you supposed to follow the money and see which politicians were benefitting personally from the deregulation of mortgage lending?
I have no doubt that if these facts had pointed to the Republican Party or to John McCain as the guilty parties, you would be treating it as a vast scandal. "Housing-gate," no doubt. Or "Fannie-gate." Instead, it was Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, both Democrats, who denied that there were any problems, who refused Bush administration requests to set up a regulatory agency to watch over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and who were still pushing for these agencies to go even further in promoting subprime mortgage loans almost up to the minute they failed.
As Thomas Sowell points out in a TownHall.com essay entitled Do Facts Matter? "Alan Greenspan warned them four years ago. So did the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers to the President. So did Bush's Secretary of the Treasury."
These are facts. This financial crisis was completely preventable. The party that blocked any attempt to prevent it was ... the Democratic Party. The party that tried to prevent it was ... the Republican Party.
Yet when Nancy Pelosi accused the Bush administration and Republican deregulation of causing the crisis, you in the press did not hold her to account for her lie. Instead, you criticized Republicans who took offense at this lie and refused to vote for the bailout! What? It's not the liar, but the victims of the lie who are to blame?
Now let's follow the money ... right to the presidential candidate who is the number-two recipient of campaign contributions from Fannie Mae. And after Franklin Raines, the CEO of Fannie Mae who made $90 million while running it into the ground, was fired for his incompetence, one presidential candidate's campaign actually consulted him for advice on housing. If that presidential candidate had been John McCain, you would have called it a major scandal and we would be getting stories in your paper every day about how incompetent and corrupt he was.
But instead, that candidate was Barack Obama, and so you have buried this story, and when the McCain campaign dared to call Raines an "adviser" to the Obama campaign -- because that campaign had sought his advice -- you actually let Obama's people get away with accusing McCain of lying, merely because Raines wasn't listed as an official adviser to the Obama campaign. You would never tolerate such weasely nit-picking from a Republican.
If you who produce our local daily paper actually had any principles, you would be pounding this story, because the prosperity of all Americans was put at risk by the foolish, short-sighted, politically selfish, and possibly corrupt actions of leading Democrats, including Obama. If you who produce our local daily paper had any personal honor, you would find it unbearable to let the American people believe that somehow Republicans were to blame for this crisis.
There are precedents. Even though President Bush and his administration never said that Iraq sponsored or was linked to 9/11, you could not stand the fact that Americans had that misapprehension -- so you pounded us with the fact that there was no such link. (Along the way, you created the false impression that Bush had lied to them and said that there was a connection.)
If you had any principles, then surely right now, when the American people are set to blame President Bush and John McCain for a crisis they tried to prevent, and are actually shifting to approve of Barack Obama because of a crisis he helped cause, you would be laboring at least as hard to correct that false impression.
Your job, as journalists, is to tell the truth. That's what you claim you do, when you accept people's money to buy or subscribe to your paper. But right now, you are consenting to or actively promoting a big fat lie -- that the housing crisis should somehow be blamed on Bush, McCain, and the Republicans. You have trained the American people to blame everything bad -- even bad weather -- on Bush, and they are responding as you have taught them to.
If you had any personal honor, each reporter and editor would be insisting on telling the truth -- even if it hurts the election chances of your favorite candidate. Because that's what honorable people do. Honest people tell the truth even when they don't like the probable consequences. That's what honesty means. That's how trust is earned.
Barack Obama is just another politician, and not a very wise one. He has revealed his ignorance and naivete time after time -- and you have swept it under the rug, treated it as nothing. Meanwhile, you have participated in the borking of Sarah Palin, reporting savage attacks on her for the pregnancy of her unmarried daughter -- while you ignored the story of John Edwards's own adultery for many months.
So I ask you now: Do you have any standards at all? Do you even know what honesty means? Is getting people to vote for Barack Obama so important that you will throw away everything that journalism is supposed to stand for? You might want to remember the way the National Organization of Women threw away their integrity by supporting Bill Clinton despite his well-known pattern of sexual exploitation of powerless women. Who listens to NOW anymore? We know they stand for nothing; they have no principles. That's where you are right now.
It's not too late. You know that if the situation were reversed, and the truth would damage McCain and help Obama, you would be moving heaven and earth to get the true story out there.
If you want to redeem your honor, you will swallow hard and make a list of all the stories you would print if it were McCain who had been getting money from Fannie Mae, McCain whose campaign had consulted with its discredited former CEO, McCain who had voted against tightening its lending practices. Then you will print them, even though every one of those true stories will point the finger of blame at the reckless Democratic Party, which put our nation's prosperity at risk so they could feel good about helping the poor, and lay a fair share of the blame at Obama's door.
You will also tell the truth about John McCain: that he tried, as a Senator, to do what it took to prevent this crisis. You will tell the truth about President Bush: that his administration tried more than once to get Congress to regulate lending in a responsible way. This was a Congress-caused crisis, beginning during the Clinton administration, with Democrats leading the way into the crisis and blocking every effort to get out of it in a timely fashion.
If you at our local daily newspaper continue to let Americans believe --and vote as if -- President Bush and the Republicans caused the crisis, then you are joining in that lie. If you do not tell the truth about the Democrats -- including Barack Obama -- and do so with the same energy you would use if the miscreants were Republicans -- then you are not journalists by any standard. You're just the public relations machine of the Democratic Party, and it's time you were all fired and real journalists brought in, so that we can actually have a daily newspaper in our city.
Sarah Palin: a gift from God for East Coast comics
Tina Fey's zany skits on Sarah Palin unwittingly expose the anti-smalltown, redneck-baiting beliefs of America's big-city liberals.
For a while, with the Bush era coming to an end, it looked like the US would face a severe comedy crunch, a boom and bust of punchlines and impersonations. With the termination of Dubya's second term looming, cartoonists, sketchwriters, talk-show hosts and stand-up acts were losing their sense of purpose. The exit of the stoopid, monkey-faced commander-in-chief posed a long-term threat to gag writers' careers.
Enter Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate. A moose-hunting anti-abortionist whose unmarried daughter got pregnant at 17. A `hockey mom' who only applied for a passport last year, aged 43. A former beauty queen and a smalltown Alaskan who says things like `you betcha' and `I'll tell ya'. Pure comedy gold.
As actress Tina Fey's recent impersonations of Palin on the comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live (SNL) have shown, poking fun at gun-toting, smalltown-minded, redneck Republicans has not fallen out of favour. Fey, of 30 Rock fame, has become an international household name as a result of her Palin skits, and SNL has achieved its highest ratings in 14 years. In fact, Fey's impersonations of Palin may now be better known than Palin's own media appearances. True, it was Palin herself who, at the Republican National Convention, famously confessed that she is a regular `hockey mom', comparing herself to a `pitbull with lipstick'. And it was the real Palin who said that the proximity of Alaska (where she is governor) to Russia shows that she has `foreign policy experience'.
The lines `I can see Russia from my house' and `I am looking forward to a portion of your questions' are equally well known now - but they were spoken by Tina Fey spoofing Palin. Fey's impersonations have become bigger news than the real campaign. On this side of the Atlantic, Fey made it on to the front pages of both the Independent and the Guardian, who called her `the real star of the US election'.
Last Saturday, the Fey-as-Palin mania reached a climax as Palin herself appeared on SNL alongside Fey. In the skit, as her mimic addressed a mock press conference, Palin watched from backstage, together with SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels. Actor Alec Baldwin joined them, apparently mistaking the real Palin for Fey, and proceeded to scold Michaels for letting Fey join `that horrible woman' onstage. `She goes against everything we stand for!' he exclaimed. Michaels awkwardly pointed out that the woman next to them was, in fact, that `horrible woman', Governor Palin, and Baldwin mumbled an apology.
SNL has come under fire for giving Palin a spot on its programme. Some argued that it gave her unnecessary, and possibly positive, media exposure. Baldwin retorted: `If you think an appearance on SNL would sway voters. you may have more contempt for the electorate of this country than the Republican National Committee does. And that's a lot of contempt.'
Fair enough. Yet the idea that Palin stands against everything we stand for, as Baldwin put it - that's `we' as in the smug SNL world - also expresses a sense of contempt. Sure, Baldwin's comment on SNL was a joke. But the joke worked because it reflected a very real attitude, namely that the media-savvy, big-city, sophisticated Democrats (`we') are frightened that gun-loving Joe-shmos (`they') might actually choose to exercise their democratic right to vote on 4 November and put a cross next to Palin's name.
Post-Bush, bashing Palin has become a cheap way for apparently erudite celebrities and commentators to distance themselves from redneck America. For what informs the outbreak of comedic attacks on Palin is a not-so-funny snobbery towards small towns and religious people, and fear that America might lose its moral authority to boss around dodgy foreign regimes.
In an interview on CBS soon after John McCain announced Palin as his running mate, actor Matt Damon said the prospect of her possibly becoming president was a `really scary thing' - even though he admitted, in the next breath, that `I don't know anything about her'. `I know she was mayor of a really, really small town and she was governor of Alaska for less than two years', he said.
For Damon, all we need to know is that America could be a heartbeat away (if McCain croaks) from being ruled by someone from a really small town who has the audacity to go to Washington and - even worse - think she can tell big-city folk like Damon what to do. On Palin's alleged creationist beliefs, Damon went on: `I need to know if she thinks dinosaurs were here 4,000 years go. I really want to know because she's gonna have the nuclear codes.'
This is an updated version of one of the key arguments deployed against Reagan: that he was a dumb, overly Christian former actor who might plummet the world into nuclear meltdown on a whim. But perhaps Damon can tell us if he really believes polar bears and penguins are dying out because of global warming, and if he really thinks that representing the planet as a naked woman is a progressive view of the female sex. Because these trendy visions of climate chaos being visited upon Mother Earth appeared in a recent nature documentary narrated by Damon.
Plenty of Prius-driving celebrity environmentalists who slam creationists for their backward views - from Damon to Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt - preach their own secular version of Kingdom Come. They tell us that we must repent for our sins against Nature or else we will be visited by floods and pestilence. Yet while they pray for Al Gore to deliver us from evil and bring salvation to those who join his `genuine moral and spiritual challenge' (2), they see Palin as a backward Bible-basher.
Palin's lack of foreign-policy experience, and her talk of how close Alaska is to Russia, is another joke that keeps on running. In a particularly funny sequence on SNL, Fey-as-Palin said that Alaskans `keep an eye on' their Russian neighbours: `Every morning, when Alaskans wake up, one of the first things they do is look outside to see if there are any Russians hanging around. And if there are, you gotta go up to them and ask, "What are you doing here?" And if they can't give you a good reason, it's our responsibility to say, you know, "Shoo! Get back over there!"`
Yet some seem to believe that this really is how Palin plans to deal with foreigners. The prospect of Palin as president is, according to Damon, `like a really bad Disney movie, a hockey mom facing down Putin'. A Facebook group called `I have more foreign policy experience than Sarah Palin' has attracted over 240,000 members.
However, when it comes to Disneyfying foreign policy, no one - not even Palin - can beat celebrities themselves. Celebs are forever turning complex international conflicts into simplistic morality tales of good guys v bad guys, with America and the `international community' as the knights in shining armour who must rescue the destitute.
Along with stars like George Clooney (who once said of the conflict in Darfur: `It's not a political issue. There's only right and wrong'), East Coast celebrities like Damon and Mia Farrow have displayed a gung-ho attitude that would make even Palin blush. Their `Save Darfur' campaign recently parked a black military helicopter on Second Avenue in New York with a banner saying `Send me to Darfur'. Farrow has reportedly been in talks with Blackwater, the private military firm that caused so much destruction in Iraq, about sending men to Darfur. Indeed, Damon's central concern about Palin - that she is too flimsy a politician to face down the likes of Putin - shows what lies behind Palin-bashing over foreign policy: the notion that she isn't experienced enough to deal with those dodgy Russians, murderous Africans and other lunatics on the world stage.
Of course, it's not surprising that comedians have jumped on Palin - she hands it to them on a plate, with a folksy wink and a side serving of cheesy one-liners. She's easy to imitate and easy to mock. But mocking Republicans is hardly risque or controversial after eight years of Bush. A real challenge would be to take the piss out of Barack Obama.
Yet when The New Yorker magazine recently tried to mix Obama with satire on its front page - with a cartoon showing the Democratic presidential hopeful and his wife as fist-bumping bin Laden-worshippers in the Oval Office - it was greeted with outrage and disgust from Democrats and Republicans alike. Obama has been untouchable in the largely white world of American late-night comedy. When Daily Show host Jon Stewart quipped about Obama changing his position on campaign financing during his leadership race against Hillary Clinton, the audience didn't appreciate the joke. `You know, you're allowed to laugh at him', Stewart said. He later told the New York Times: `People have a tendency to react as far as their ideology allows them.' (3) For now, Obama, it seems, is untouchable. As Mike Sweeney, head writer for Conan O'Brien on Late Night, said in July: `We're hoping he picks an idiot as vice president'. (4)
Well, Biden is no Palin. But at least the Alaskan hockey mom has bought American comedians some time and given the East Coast and Hollywood celebrity set a renewed sense of purpose, someone to direct their anger at. In the process, they have provided some laughs, while exposing what lies behind cheap and easy Palin-bashing: hostility towards smalltown people, a desire to protect American prestige in humanitarian military affairs, and a blind fear of making any jokes about the main man: Obama.
The British Labour party's race prophecy may be self-fulfilling
Labour should overcome its fear of its own white working-class voters
Phil Woolas, the new Minister for Borders and Immigration, says that Labour needs "a tougher immigration policy" to reduce racial tensions. The problem, he told The Times, is that as recession looms "racial stereotyping becomes stronger".
It might help if ministers didn't reinforce the "racial stereotype" of the white working class as an ethnic pogrom waiting to happen, a racial time bomb ready to be set off by a spark from the British National Party. Mr Woolas says that he has been brought in to "be tougher and to change perceptions" that the Government is soft on immigration. He could start by changing the perception that Labour fears its own white voters.
I was struck by Mr Woolas's explanation that his "lifelong purpose" of dealing with immigration problems began when the first Asian boy at his Lancashire grammar school was called "Banana". At my 1970s Surrey grammar, everybody knew they could not call the only black boy "Nigger". So they called him "Nagga" instead.
Such stories give a glimpse of how much British society has changed in 30 years. Both Mr Woolas's Oldham constituency and my corner of northeast London have large Pakistani communities, and no doubt there are problems. Yet there is little sign of Seventies "Paki-bashing".
New Labour, however, does not trust its own people. "I don't believe we are a country of Alf Garnetts," Mr Woolas concedes, "but there's a large element that is discriminatory in its attitude." So fearful is Labour of white working-class voters that it has long sought to avoid debate about immigration. In the 2001 general election, speeches were banned at the Oldham election counts to stop BNP candidates speaking, for fear that a hateful word might start a race riot. The result was to allow the far Right to pose as champions of free speech.
Now the minister hopes to placate white voters by posturing against immigration, while patronisingly asking them "to be nice to people who do come to settle here". Against the background of communities divided by official multiculturalism, which he concedes has helped to "ghettoise" people, his warning of rising tensions could yet prove a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Back when Phil Woolas was Labour general secretary of Manchester University student union, he did not agree with us revolting Marxist students who demanded an open borders policy, but he did lead campaigns to support overseas students against the authorities. Now he would have us believe that the way to pursue his "lifelong purpose" is to strike anti-immigration poses. That seems bananas.
Learning from Stalin in Britain
Stalin regularly doctored his production statistics. What statistics does socialist Britain NOT doctor? Violent crime up 22% as Home Office admits police have been under-recording serious offences for ten years
Public trust in crime statistics has been dealt a devastating blow after ministers admitted the figures have been downplaying serious violence for up to a decade. The Home Office admitted that as many as one in five of the worst attacks has been wrongly classified in published figures. As many as 4,000 serious assaults each year were mistakenly recorded as minor incidents - and officials conceded they 'simply do not know how far back it goes'.
The tightening of the rules has seen figures for serious violent crimes rocket by 22 per cent compared to last year - and confusion over the figures makes it impossible to say how much of the rise is genuine.
Ministers blamed the blunders on police officers, who were wrongly classifying cases of 'grievous bodily harm with intent' as minor assaults. But if this is the case it is unclear why the practice was allowed to continue for so long unchecked.
Police have been placed under severe pressure by ministers to reduce the level of serious violence on the street. Critics may claim this provided an incentive for officers to downplay the gravity of assaults where - while the intent was grave - the actual injuries suffered were minimal.
In a sign of the chaos the Metropolitan Police yesterday took the unprecedented step of halting publication of its violent crime figures to check whether they meet the guidelines. Senior police chiefs admitted the problems affected all 43 forces in England and Wales.
Critics claimed the revelations were another serious blow to the credibility of Government crime figures following years of complaints of spin and statistical manipulation. The confusion makes it impossible to tell whether serious violence rose or fell last year - although there are indications of a significant increase in serious knife attacks. There are also grave questions over repeated statements by ministers in recent years stressing the minor nature of many recorded offences.
The blunder centres on the way vicious attacks are logged at police stations. Officers generally class an assault as grievous bodily harm if the victim suffers a cut to their skin or a broken bone. But the rules also state that where an attacker tries but fails to inflict such an injury police should record the assault as GBH rather than a lesser offence - in the same way that attempted murder is treated as a serious offence even if the intended victim is unharmed. Where a thug tries to smash a bottle in a victim's face but causes only a nosebleed, for example, police should recorded the incident as GBH.
It now transpires many officers had been downgrading such incidents to lesser charges of actual bodily harm or common assault - which fall outside the Home Office's definition of 'most serious violence against the person'.
In the latest quarterly figures published yesterday the category of 'most serious violence against the person' had leapt by 22 per cent year on year. It rose from 4,500 in the second quarter last year to 5,500 in the same period this year, equivalent to around 60 a day. But ministers said the startling rise was largely because police across the country were ordered earlier this year to follow counting rules more rigorously when logging crimes.
This 'clarification' by the Home Office quickly revealed that many serious assaults were being wrongly recorded. The Home Office's head of statistics Paul Wiles said: 'We simply don't know how far back this goes. The people doing the recording are constantly changing and retiring.' He said there was evidence that two-thirds of the 22 per cent increase in serious violence was caused by the new counting rules.
Warwickshire Chief Constable Keith Bristow, for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: 'This is an issue that affects all police forces to a greater or lesser degree.' Home Office police minister Vernon Coaker denied the blunders were embarrassing, saying: 'I want the statistics to be as clear as possible.'
But Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'These figures fatally undermine government spin that violent crime was getting better. Labour should now face up to the reality of their failure and realise that if you can't count a problem, you can't combat it.'
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, OBAMA WATCH (2), EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.